In every generation there are those hand-selected few who do more than inspire their contemporaries.
There are those who leave behind a legacy that can forever be seen, felt or admired. And, in the case of Dr. The Honourable Lennox A. Pike, his legacy can be heard and danced to whenever the rhythmic cadence of a steel pan is in the Belizean air.
The deserving accolades were bestowed on the musical pioneer, when The National Institute of Culture and History (N.I.C.H.) acknowledged Dr. Pike for his role in introducing steel pan music to the Jewel.
The laureate received his honor at the most fitting time: after Belizeans had enjoyed a melodious night of spectacular, feet-stomping renditions that were served up by several of Belize’s top steel bands at the fourth, annual “Pan Yaad” Concert at the House of Culture on Friday, September 14.
But for those who do not already know the story of the genesis of steel orchestras in Belize, The Reporter took the time to speak with Dr. Pike, who was more than happy to share the full story of how this unique Eastern Caribbean tradition was carried to our beloved Belizean shores.
Where it all began
It could be said that Dr. Pike’s journey to becoming the founder of steel pan in Belize began when he first started to play the trombone, when he was eight years old.
A prodigy of sorts, Pike immersed himself in music, and by the time he became a university student at age 17 he was already versed in about eighteen different musical instruments.
But it was at the University of the West Indies (UWI)’s campus in Trinidad that this musical genius’ prior experience with music would afford him an express ticket into the world of this now popular idiophonic instrument.
Pike explained that prior to his advent at the university, where he studied medicine, he had never seen the instrument; however, that did not stop the university’s band, which needed additional steel drum players for their Carnival road march, from asking him to join their ranks and lend them his talent. He, of course, did, and that became the first step in an awe-inspiring journey.
Using his knowledge and prior experience with music, he learned how to play the steeldrum for the road march; and after the Carnival ended, the steelband members, now utterly impressed with his prowess, asked him to stay with the group. He agreed.
Pike, the over-achiever did not settle for only learning to play the different pans that make up the orchestra; he also studied how to make, melody and harmonize it —a skill that played an essential role in keeping steel pan alive in Belize.
Arrival in Belize
However, it would be many years before the first steel pan arrived in Belize. During his studies, another musical pioneer from Belize entered the equation, when he visited Pike’s campus. That young man was Colville Young, now Sir Colville Young, Governor General of Belize.
At the time of Colville Young’s visit, Lennox Pike, who was only been introduced to steel pan a few years before, had taken over as the leader of the university’s steelband. Pike said he introduced the future Governor General of Belize to the instrument.
“He loved it,” Dr. Pike recalled, and continued:
“I told him [Sir Colville] that when I returned home to Belize, I want to start a steelband; I’m hoping I can count on your support”
Without hesitation, the future Governor General, agreed to do just that. However, with the responsibilities of academia, it would be until 1964 that Pike’s ambition of bringing his passion to homeland Belize was actualized.
And true to his word, the youthful Colville Young was there to assist, and helped in rounding up the musically inclined to come under the tutelage of the Belizean steel pan pioneer.
Dr. Pike and company, persuaded ESSO Standard Oil Ltd. in Belize to bring in steel pans for the band, but when the pans arrived they were arbitrarily confiscated, leaving the men without instruments.
“But before they took away the pans, we had made copies of the tops” Dr. Poke recalled. “And because I knew how to make the pans, we were able to make our own pans and continue our music.”
With pans back in hand, the handful of panmen went on a mission to popularize their new-found passion at the then Palace Theatre.
“We were then given half an hour before the start of a movie at the Palace Theatre. For half an hour before the movie we would present ourselves to the people, and they loved it.”
A short time after the first pans arrived in Belize, the panmen, with custom-made and uniquely branded steel drums, formed the first steelband in Belize—The All Stars Steel Orchestra.
The legacy continues
Eventually, Dr. Pike left for Michigan, USA to practice medicine; but his close friend and fellow panman, Sir Colville Young, continued the work. He continued Pike’s legacy at St. Michael’s College where he was teacher and later principal.
Dr.Pike said that with the growing popularity of steel pan music, people started to approach Sir Colville to have him assist in starting other steelbands in their respective schools.
“Today, they’ve grown into some rather large bands like what I saw the other day at Pan Yaad,” he said with obvious elation in his voice.
Amazed by what he saw at the fourth Pan Yaad concert, Pike said, “It makes me extremely happy. That night at Pan Yaad I was just about going out of my skin, when I heard those guys play.”
Dr. Pike said that he is not only happy and proud that the music has continued. He is inspired by how much it has progressed. “I was absolutely delighted!” he said.
This legendary pioneer, recognized by N.I.C.H. President Diane Haylock on the night of the Pan Yaad, ended by sharing his sincerest hope for his legacy—steel pan music in Belize—to not only stay the course, but for it to continue to grow and become even more popular and for more people to experience the melodic soul of steel pan music.